MADISON – Roland A. Johnson, age 91, passed away peacefully on Wednesday, May 30th, 2012 in his suite at Sebring.
He was born September 14, 1920, in Johnson City, TN to Carl Albert and Anna (Dahl) Johnson.
Roland began playing the violin at age 10 and immediately knew it was his first great passion in life. He completed high school age 15 and in 1938 went to Cincinnati on scholarship to study violin with Emil Herrmann. He graduated in 1942 from the College of Music with a Bachelors of Music. Roland was in the Navy from 1942-1946 in Key West, FL as an instructor in the submarine sonar school. Here he also found his love for conducting music and did the first of many performances of Handel’s Messiah. In 1946, he returned to Cincinnati as a graduate student and was a faculty member conductor of the College of Music Symphony, Chorus and Opera from 1947-1952. He studied from 1952-53 in Europe with conductor Hermann Scherchan and had exceptional experiences meeting and listening to famous European composers, singers and musicians. Upon his return he completed his Masters of Music.
These years in Cincinnati built wonderful memories and relationships. In 1954 he took a teaching position at the University of Alabama Tuscaloosa and met his next great passion, his beloved wife, Arline (Hanke), who was on the voice faculty. During their years at Alabama they partnered on many choral and operatic performances and were married from 1956 until Arline’s death in 1988. In 1961 Roland was invited to take over for Walter Herrmann, the Music Director for the Madison Symphony, who had been a mentor in Cincinnati so he, Arline and his new son Carl moved to Madison. Roland worked for 33 years as the Madison Area Technical College Chairman of Music and Conductor of the Madison Symphony and Chorus. He conducted many of the giants of music including Izthak Perlman, Jon Vickers, Eileen Farrell, James Galway to name just a few. Roland had a keen interest in choral masterpieces and enjoyed working with the Madison Symphony Chorus. He is most proud to have founded the Madison Opera with his wife, Arline as well as the support of many community members. He conducted over 50 operas starting and ending his Madison Opera career with La Boheme. During his tenure with the symphony and opera he brought both organizations to new heights of excellence. He commissioned and performed over 20 premieres and was especially proud of his work with Gunther Schuller and the 1993 opera premier of Shining Brow. Roland was granted a Doctorate in Music in the 80’s from Milton College and in 1993 received the Cincinnati College of Music Distinguished Alumni award. He is a Life Director of the Madison Opera and is proud to have received the Leadership in the Arts award, the Governor’s Award and for having been a founding member of the national Conductor’s Guild. After Roland’s retirement in 1993, he spent his time with his grandchildren providing needed rides and childcare, attending school, music and sporting events and just being proud. He also continued work with the Madison Opera and got back to playing his violin and performing with family and church.
Roland is survived by his son, Carl Johnson and daughter-in-law, Barbara Westfall; his daughter, Karen Johnson Kretschmann, and son-in-law, David E. Kretschmann; his adored grandchildren, Sarah, Kyle, and Calder; his loving sister, Carolyn and brother-in-law, Bob Sluder as well as many other extended family members in Tennessee. He was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Arline; sister Violet Helen and his parents; and many dear friends from Madison.
Roland was an exceptional person with such a passion for living, music and his family who had boundless energy throughout his life. We are honored to have had him influence our lives.
We thank those from Meriter, Coventry, Sebring, and Heartland Hospice for the love, service and guidance you provided our family.
Funeral services will be held on Saturday, June 9, 2012 at 11 a.m. at MIDVALE COMMUNITY LUTHERAN CHURCH, 4329 Tokay Boulevard, Madison. A visitation will start at the church at 10 a.m. and a reception will follow.
Memorials may be made to Madison Opera, Madison Symphony Orchestra or Midvale Community Lutheran Church.
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